Southwest 2015 – The Desert View Watchtower

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Thursday, December 3rd, 2015

Today was a good day to head back out to the south rim of the Grand Canyon for some pick up shots and a bit more time for exploration. The Grand Canyon Railway was a most excellent experience, but unfortunately it did not leave us with much time to hike around and get the shots we wanted, so Julia and I took the starship out to the south rim and took in some much desired photo opportunities as we trekked along the regions east of Mather Point.

Before we set off for a day at the south rim, Julia and I tried a place just down the street off route 66 called “Old Smokey’s”. We were having some pretty light breakfast lately in the form of a 6 ounce greek yogurt with walnuts and honey, but it just wasn’t going to do for a day like today, so we got in a good sized portion for more energy. Julia ordered a tasty omelet with sausage and veggies and I got a good old steak and eggs plate. Suffice it to say that this meal held us over beyond lunch. =)

“The portions and the quality of the food at Old Smokey’s was quite good.”


Once breakfast was wrapped up, we walked back to the motel and picked up our camera gear for the day. We set off immediately for Highway 64 at the east end of Williams and started our one hour drive northbound across the vast plateau. There wasn’t a whole lot to see along the way for the exception of a Flinstone’s themed tourist trap, so we carried on without interruption. We zipped past the park entry gate with the use of my Annual National Parks Pass and eventually found the parking lot at the Grand Canyon Visitor Center.

The Grand Canyon Visitor Center

GPS Coordinates: 36.0568° N, 112.1130° W

Julia and I made out way to Mather point and then began trekking east of there hitting up all the various photo opportunities along the edge of the rim trail. We hiked for about 2 miles and then came back as we started to realize that we needed a very different vantage point. Based off the research I had done before the trip, the areas around the Desert View Watchtower in the east are supposed to be pretty spectacular. We got back into the truck and started our way east.

“The interesting shot I managed at the rim trail just east of Mather point.”

“Behind the scenes of the above photo, iPhone 6 quality.”

“Julia and I found a few great places to take advantage of some photo opportunities along the way”

“This giant rock balances right at the edge of a very steep drop.”

“Julia gets in some pretty sweet shots of the view from this area.”

“From the last place we stopped, we were able to get a good view of the Desert View Watchtower to the east.”

The Desert View Watchtower

GPS Coordinates: 36.0441° N, 111.8337° W

Desert View Watchtower, also known as the Indian Watchtower at Desert View, is a 70 foot (21 m) high stone building located on the South Rim of the Grand Canyon within Grand Canyon National Park in Arizona, United States. The tower is located at Desert View, more than 20 miles (32 km) to the east of the main developed area at Grand Canyon Village, toward the east entrance to the park. The four-story structure, completed in 1932, was designed by American architect Mary Colter, an employee of the Fred Harvey Company who also created and designed many other buildings in the Grand Canyon vicinity including Hermit’s Rest and the Lookout Studio. The interior contains murals by Fred Kabotie.


The watchtower was the last of the series of Mary Colter-designed visitor concession structures at the Grand Canyon until her renovation of the Bright Angel Lodge in 1935. The tower was designed to resemble an Ancient Pueblo Peoples watchtower, but its size dwarfs any known Pueblan-built tower. The closest prototypes for such a structure may be found at Hovenweep National Monument.The structure is composed of a circular coursed masonry tower rising from a rubble base. The base was intentionally designed to convey a partly ruinous appearance, perhaps of an older structure on which the watchtower was later built. The base is arranged within a large circle with the tower to the north. Tiny windows are irregularly disposed, some of which are themselves irregular in shape. The main space is the Kiva Room in the base structure, apparently roofed with logs that were salvaged from the old Grandview Hotel. The ceiling is a false structure concealing the roof structure that supports an observation deck. The Kiva Room features a fireplace with a large picture window directly above where the chimney would ordinarily go. Smoke is drawn away through an offset, concealed flue. The room still contains its original furnishings, which are part of the historic designation. A separate, apparently ruinous structure was actually built in that form to provide a storage place for firewood.

The tower rises as an open shaft lined by circular balconies overlooking the central space. Access from balcony to balcony is provided by small stairways. At the top the space is decked over, creating an enclosed observation level with large glazed windows. An open observation area on the roof of this space is now closed to visitors and is used for radio equipment. The steel and concrete structure of the observation level is concealed behind plaster, stone and wood. The tower is decorated by bold murals by Fred Kabotie, with other, petroglyph-style decorations by Fred Greer. Small windows in the tower’s shaft let beams of light into the lower space. The tower also features a number of “reflectoscopes” — black mirrors to reflect the view of the canyon in a more abstract style, providing visitors an alternative view of the Canyon.

Mary Colter spent six months researching archeological prototypes and construction techniques before building a model of the site, studying the design of the tower using clay. Before the final design was completed Colter had a 70 foot (21 m) platform built to assess the views from the proposed site. Engineering was provided by the Atchison, Topeka & Santa Fe Railway. Colter was responsible for selecting Kabotie and Greer to decorate the interior. Greer’s rock art paintings are copies of now-destroyed petroglyphs at Abo, New Mexico, and may be their only surviving representation. (source: wikipedia)


“The main entrance to the tower has a beautiful rotunda style viewing room called the Kiva Room.”

“After ascending the small stairway to the left, you enter the main tower.”

“These awesome paintings by celebrated Hopi native, Fred Kabotie are absolutely amazing.”

“When you reach the 4th floor of the tower, you will find a small army of 25¢ telescopes.”

“iPhone 6 shot, through the glass…”

“Shooting northwest through the glass, Canon 5D MKII style.”

Filter time at the Watchtower

After spending 45 minutes in the upper sections of the Watchtower, Julia and I started our way back down before descending to the Kiva Room, we stopped at an exit at the top of the last section of stairs. The door led to a large viewing area that resembled a bit of a patio on the second floor just above what would be the roof of the Kiva Room below. Outside there were a few visitors taking in the scenery and getting some shots. We spotted a small wooden picnic table, so we claimed it and placed our camera bags down.

We took the time to switch lenses and get our filters ready for the approaching golden hour. Back in Vegas when I had first picked up Julia for this trip, I handed her a birthday gift to open and she was excited to discover that I had given her a new set of filters for enhancing sunset colors, blue skies, and a coral stripe set. She was about to get some testing in on the new filters for this sunset.

We both carried our own gear around in our F-stop bags and although hers was a bigger bag than mine, Julia was a total trooper about hauling it around. Of course when she got too worn down by the weight of the bag on her back, I was more than happy to carry it for her. In fact, there was a point where we just traded bags all together so that she didn’t have to chase me down to get a filter or change lenses from within her pack. Anyhow, the view from this second floor outdoor deck was awesome!

You could see the entire northern rim and beyond! The Vermillion Cliffs, home of the famous “Wave”, could be see even at this distance. Being the start of December meant that as the sun dropped, so did the temperatures and boy was it getting cold! We had gloves, scarves, beanies, and jackets. We were prepared, but nothing could make you ready for sub freezing weather.



“This is a sample of the sweet filter set that I got for Julia, there are no post effects happening in this image that she took.”

“The view to the west revealed a dark and massive extinct cinder cone with highway 89 just on the other side of it.”

“The view to the north was looking very beautiful!, you could see the massive Vermillion cliffs on the horizon.”

“Julia and I headed downstairs and out to get a few more shots of the canyon as the sun was beginning its descent.”

“She was having the time of her life with me and I couldn’t be any happier.”

“This is the last shot I got in for the day, the colorado river runs along the canyon floor almost a mile down.”

“Another beautiful day comes to a close in the southwest.”

When the sun had set, Julia and I set off eastbound to see what we could find with what little light remained in the day. Our drive had us pass through the Little Colorado Gorge which looked so surreal even in the dim light of the twilight hour. I had told Julia that somehow, we have to fit a visit back to that area in the days to some before heading to Page, AZ. It got very dark by the time we hit Highway 89 and started south to Flagstaff for some fuel and then westbound for Williams. It was an epic day for photography, but now it was time for some food and a restful night in.

Until the next travel blog, remember to get out there and “Shoot the Planet!”



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